My History With Anime and Manga

My Ohtori signet ring and a totally unrelated sword.

As I’ve mentioned previously, my anime-watching really started with Star Blazers, shown weekdays at 2 pm on Philadephia UHF Channel 29 ca 1980. The fabulously-caped, heavily queer-coded villain Desslok versus Our Manly Hero Wildstar and His Manly Friends (except for Smurfette, I mean Nova) was instantly entrancing for my flannel-wearing GNC tween self.

It was a few years before I discovered that it was just one example of USian bowdlerization in the importation of Japanese animation. Apparently, it wasn’t butchered as badly as other items, but I still haven’t seen Space Battleship Yamato in any of its forms (original, remake, or live action) to be able to tell for myself. The seed of my ongoing romance with military space opera was planted originally by Star Trek, but was shaped and fertilized by Star Blazers and by the next series I watched, Robotech (a bowdlerization that I understand was much more comprehensive).

Cheers, Great Leader Desslok.

After I got to college, my access to anime (and TV in general) diminished. I watched very little animation through grad school (just Aeon Flux and a few other things on Liquid Television in the early 1990s), and didn’t pick it back up until I got to Massachusetts in the late 1990s, when we had access to the late, lamented Tokyo Kid, a shop that rented anime tapes and DVDs, and also sold DVDs and manga. Our housemate chewed through Rurouni Kenshin, which didn’t catch my attention at all, and a few other series I sort of half watched. It was, as I discussed before, Revolutionary Girl Utena that brought me back into the anime fold with a vengeance (though we had been shown Neon Genesis Evangelion and Vision of Escaflowne before that). I had to learn how to navigate fansites on the late-1990s interwebs in order to get my hands on the rest of the series (as fansubs), since only the first story arc was commercially released in the US. I ended up with 2 or 3 sets of RGU in fansub (we gave them away as gifts to some folks), but I also explored other series in fansub, like:

  • Oniisama E (Brother, Dear Brother): one of the formative yuri anime by Riyoko Ikeda (the creator of Rose of Versailles, which I have not watched) but omg the fansub was AWFUL and we couldn’t get through it; even though it’s been released commercially in the US now, I’m not sure I could attempt it again
  • Seraphim Call: it was basically a loosely-interconnected set of short stories about a bunch of young women, and some of it was very creepy and some of it was dull, but there was the dyke on a bike which made everything much more interesting
  • Marmalade Boy: dull as a stump straight shojo anime, but more digestible than other more iconic straight shojo like Fushigi Yuugi

There were a lot of other things that I no longer remember because I cleared out the VHS tapes awhile ago and the series were unmemorable.

Note: I admit that I have never watched Sailor Moon. I was a little too old for monster-of-the-week when it became available commercially and I’ve never been able to get into it in the times since when I’ve tried to watch it. However, I read the entirety of the Sailor Moon supplement from Guardians of Order, put out as support for their Big Eyes, Small Mouth tabletop roleplaying game, and I have osmosed great affection for Sailors Uranus and Neptune from my friends.

After we bought our house, our anime consumption slowed down somewhat, but we did finish several series or seasons of series over time. One of our favorites, which we watched somewhere around 2005, was Yami no Matsuei/Descendants of Darkness. I don’t normally collect manga for series (other than Utena), but in this case I ended up buying both the US and the Japanese manga because the US manga censored part of one of the last volumes. I can’t even say why this series caught my attention so much. Maybe I identified with perpetually-rumpled and work-persecuted Tsuzuki too much.

Just give the poor guy his sweets. He works and angsts so hard for them!

We of course watched Full Metal Alchemist (the first series), which we liked for a lot of the reason we like other media, like Hong Kong Cinema: the lightning swings between comedy and heartwrenching, the well-developed characters started on a schtick that gets painted with broad brush strokes, with more details built up over time, that sort of thing. I read most of the manga, but never mustered the energy to watch Brotherhood.

We watched Serial Experiments Lain via Netflix (and I’m sorry we didn’t buy the DVDs), and then I started looking for other series involving Yoshitoshi ABe. We accidentally stumbled on NeiA_7, which is an odd little series that we enjoyed more than we expected, and then found Haibane Renmei, which is exactly my jam and is only the second anime series to make me cry. I enthusiastically bought the first DVD of Technolyze, and then backed away rapidly, offloading the DVD as quickly as possible (creepy and gross and misogynist), and haven’t explored any of the rest of his stuff.

I found Haibane Renmei one of the most moving shows I’ve ever seen.

We, naturally, devoured Yuri on Ice! as well, as good queers supporting positive queer rep in anime. Still slightly mad about the non-kiss-on-camera, but I’m used to accepting crumbs.

Other series we watched through (at least through a full season):

  • Scrapped Princess was one of those weird series that shouldn’t have pulled us in but did. The titular character is a useless lump without any agency, but her older siblings who are trying hard to save her were interesting. It weirdly had some resonance with Escaflowne for me, not entirely sure why. I might have to rewatch it to figure it out, if anyone is interested.
  • Kyoh Kara Maoh! was unexpectedly delightful, and we pounded through the whole series thanks to Netflix. It informed some of our household darmok for awhile, particularly Gunter running around plaintively crying, “Heeeiiiiiike!”
  • Maria-sama Ga Miteru recs kept crossing my various feeds, so we watched the first season. It was entertaining and very pretty and extremely yuri. I was sufficiently taken with it that I wrote a crossover fic with Juri from Utena.
  • Last Exile had beautiful art and some good characters — not least being the white-haired villains, one of whom had heavy Dilandau (from Escaflowne) vibes — but it made itself unmemorable with its massive letdown of an ending that left me feeling bitter I’d spent any time at all on it.
  • Bodacious Space Pirates, which is fantastic — funny, callbacks to Old Style Space Pirate anime, great characters, and a canonical lesbian kiss (though not, sadly between our main character and her tsundere rival/girlfriend, alas), and absolutely rewatchable for something light and fluffy.
  • Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, which was ridiculous and also fun? Not my usual style, but definitely entertaining.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: if you haven’t seen it and are into magical girl anime, it’s really a must see at this point; heartwrenching and horrifying and engaging all at the same time. As classic, in its own way, as Utena.
  • Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun, which was endearing for its fresh take on some very tired tropes.
  • Mushi-shi, which hits very much the same spot as wuxia Hong Kong Cinema for me, fantasy/historical (or possibly postapocalyptic, we never really know) with critters and horror (and body horror) and backstory and engaging characters, many of whom we never see again.

And of course, we love the Miyazaki movies, especially Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, and they continue to get rewatches in our house. My wife shows Ponyo in her folklore class because it’s so much more fun than Disney’s Little Mermaid.

We’ve also watched a number of BL anime, because we’re mushy at heart and are oh gods so tired of straight romance. Some of them were just silly, like Love Stage. But some of them we go back to when we need bubblegum watching, like World’s Greatest First Love. (I’m particularly fond of the older manga editor who ends up with the hot younger twink boyfriend.)

The twinkboy (Kou) is so enthusiastic and the editor (Kisa) is so grumpy and disbelieving that someone younger would be into him.

I don’t pick up a lot of manga in general, especially since my general comic consumption has dropped drastically, but I do have the entire run of Pet Shop of Horrors, as well as FAKE and Descendants of Darkness. I bought all the Yuri Monogatari collections and Rica ‘tte Kanji (available for free online now) from Yuricon/ALC Publishing and have them on my shelf as well. I really need to start getting back into manga and related media. I have it on good authority that I’m in Love with the Villainess is wonderful and that I really need to read it.

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